Case Law as an Authoritative Source of Customary Law: Piecemeal Recording of (Living) Customary Law?




customary law, sources of customary law, living customary law, judicial precedent, recording of customary law, development of customary law


This contribution deals with the question of whether a judgment from a mainstream court dealing with customary law can be regarded as authority and thus as a recording of a customary rule or rules. When a mainstream court develops customary law to promote constitutional values or strikes customary law down for want of constitutionality, it creates new rules which are written down but which can easily be changed when society brings it to court and convinces the court that the rule needs to be changed. It is my contention that case law is a binding source of law, including customary law, which must be followed until such time that it is either absorbed into legislation or amended by a subsequent decision in terms of the principle of stare decisis. It gives us some measure of assurance as to the law to be followed. The high number of customary law disputes taken to a court of law is confirmation that traditional communities are embracing the power of the courts to settle their disputes. The judgments of these courts inevitably become the origins of customary rules that they develop and can thus be regarded as piecemeal recording of (living) customary law.




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Author Biography

Christa Rautenbach, Faculty of Law at the North-West University

B Iuris (cum laude), LLB (cum laude), LLM, LLD (PU). Professor Faculty of Law, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa. Email:


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How to Cite

Rautenbach, C. (2019). Case Law as an Authoritative Source of Customary Law: Piecemeal Recording of (Living) Customary Law?. Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal, 22, 1–20.



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